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The Beginning of New Things

Saturday, August 26, 2006
So, as of today I have a new homepage/blog. You will notice how creatively it is titled:

Ben in Brooklyn!
Update your bookmarks and come on over!

The Last Post For Ben In Japan

Wednesday, August 23, 2006
It feels awfully strange to be writing Ben In Japan from New York, but I have one last set of pictures, and it would be wrong to just never post them. I've been back a week now, moved back home, saw friends, had a party, got a lame American cell phone, drove a car on the right side of the road, and got used to speaking English again. It's tough sometimes, especially when I try to remember something back in Japan, and I find the memory already fading. A whole year of my life, a routine, a job, friends, a home - and as soon as I stepped off the plane in New York, it felt like I had just been on a long vacation. I am so glad I took all the photos I did, because only when I am looking at them do I remember everything, even the things I didn't photograph. Something about those images - each one is like a little window I can poke my head through and look around.

So the really strange part is that I now have to post pictures from a week ago that feel like they are from a different planet. I'm just going to put them up, and I'll explain where I feel it's necessary.


Day before the last day, at the half-pipe.


Mori and Naoki.



The night before my last night, I was invited to a big dinner with the Nakamuras. Everyone was there, and the food was delicious. It was hard in the last few days, because everything I did was the last. The last day on the boat, the last time on the scooter, the last drive to Kinoe, the last dinner with Mori. It's not easy, that.






Mori, lighting a cigarette ridiculously.

After dinner it was time to go see fireworks by boat. Both the Nakamura boats went out, and when we got to the spot, we tied them together and broke out the snacks and drinks.




Hiroko took this picture of her parents which I like a lot.



After the fireworks was a huge party, which combined goodbye to me, celebration of summer for all the young people on the island, and a live show by a musician from Hiroshima. It was crazy and fun and exciting and I think I'm going to keep the photos and memories of it for myself.

The next day was my last day in Japan. It was pretty full, starting with a mildly hung-over barbecue at the half-pipe.


Me, Kawamoto-san, and his son, who was one of my students.



I did some chopstick grilling with Hiroko.


Me and my bro, for a last photo.


A last dip in the inland sea.




Pretty idyllic, right?


We went out for a last drive at sunset, up around those windy roads I love so much and miss now that I'm home, views of mountains and islands all around, the sound of cicadas and birds in the heavy air - it was pretty silent as we drove, I was just trying to remember everything, and I think Mori might have been too.



And that was it. I don't remember what I had for dinner, but that night I had a number of long and difficult goodbyes, final looks at people who I had been friends with all year, people who had taught me Japanese and taken me places I never could have gone otherwise, and each one of them, I would have to just look them in the eye and say goodbye. It wasn't easy; there were tears.

After about an hour of sleep, I woke up at 4:30 and got ready to go to the ferry with Tabo-san. He picked me up at five, just as the night started turning into day. We loaded my stuff into the car, put Neko in her cage, and then got on our way. This was really the last - last view of my house, last drive through Osaki, last sight of every shop and place I had come to know over the course of the year - and before I knew it we were at Shiromizu ferry port at 5:20 in the morning, 40 minutes before the ferry. Bit by bit, people started showing up. First were a couple adult conversation class students, then one of my best students from Higashino Junior High. A car pulled up with a worker from the Board of Education, and then Mori's gold minivan pulled up with him, his two sisters, and his mother. People kept coming, more students, the assistant principal from one of my schools, Matsuura-san, my translator and helper in all things official, and Akko, my self-described "mom in Japan."



I'm standing on the ferry, and they are standing on the dock. This is about as sad as it gets.


Actually no wait. This is as sad as it gets. Watching your friends slowly drift away on a tiny Japanese island that you have come to think of as home. Watching the sun come up on the most beautiful place you've ever been, seeing it get further and further away, knowing that you can never really return, and knowing that a chapter of your life is slowly and deliberately coming to an end. That is the saddest thing.



More and more last views.


Last look at the island.


Sad as it was, it was an absolutely beautiful morning. It made me wish I had gotten up at 5:30 before, just to get out and see things like this.


Tabo-san, my boss, driver, and go-to guy.

And that was it - off I went, to the airport, through security, onto the plane, and then out of Hiroshima. The camera stayed with me the whole time, so I didn't stop taking pictures.




Last photo of Hiroshima prefecture.


Last look at Japan.


And 15 hours later, coming down at JFK in New York.

That about sums up Ben In Japan. I am no longer in Japan, and so this blog will stop updating. I have a new one almost ready to go, and when it is ready, keep an eye on this page for the new address. Expect it in the next week or so, though I can't make any promises.

For those of you who have read this blog, commented, put yourself on the map, or just flipped through the pictures, thank you. I have enjoyed every minute of writing it, and I'm glad this place managed to find an audience. I hope you'll keep reading the next one, which will be slightly different, but hopefully still good.

Good night, and good bye.

Ben

The End

Monday, August 14, 2006
Well, this is it. I don't leave tomorrow, but I am so busy that there will be no more time in the next two days for another blog post, so this is the one, the final bit of writing and pictures from Japan.



I feel like I should be writing an acceptance speech here, because it feels like I have won something. Rather than a job post I held for a year, it feels like I am coming up on the last days of some sort of all-expense-paid fantasy trip. I have lived an entire year on a tiny sub-tropical island waking up to the sun rising over the mountains, and going to sleep with the smell of the sea. I have wandered ancient temples with just the sounds wind in the bamboo for company. I have found brilliant starfish of every color 20 feet below the surface of the inland sea. I have found more beauty within 20 minutes of my house than I have ever seen before in my life. I have become comfortable and at ease in a culture that is utterly alien to me at first. I have taken 15,000 pictures. I have met some of the most wonderful people I have ever met anywhere, and I have gained a friend like no other. I have come to think of Japan as home. I have been happy.

I haven't done it all alone though. First and foremost, and just beyond anything I could ever have hoped for, there is Mori. Without him, this would have been a very different year. I have found myself saying recently that whenever I was working, I wasn't in love with life here, but as soon as I was off work, my life turned into the nonstop stream of joy that you see on this blog. That is largely due to Mori, who showed me things, took me places, and brought me into his life in a complete and total way. Without him I never would have gone fishing, I never would have gone out on a boat, I never would have found the delicious little restaurants scattered around, I never would have felt like I had really made friends and a life here. There is no way I can ever repay him for the incredible kindness he has shown me, but I can thank him here, and then again tomorrow when we go swimming together, then have dinner at his house, and then go out to watch fireworks at the last summer festival from his boat. So thank you Mori. Thank you for everything you have done, thank you for everything you have shown me, and I'll see you in New York, ne?

Today at dinner, Mori told me he couldn't come to the ferry port to say goodbye on Wednesday at 6 in the morning. I said "too early?" and he said "No. Too sad." He said he didn't think he could say goodbye to me at the ferry port, but he could probably come in his boat and wave a final goodbye across the water.

God this is hard to write.

Mori isn't the only one, though he is the only one I have to say goodbye to. Over the course of the year there have been a few people I have stayed in close touch with back home. I won't name those people because you know who you are, but you should know that if it hadn't been for the friendship, honesty, and warmth that I have gotten in bits and pieces, e-mails, letters, packages, and IMs - I would be dreading coming home. You have reminded me what great people I know back home, and you have given me so much to look forward to when I do get off that plane at JFK. Thank you, you have no idea how much your correspondence has meant to me.

To everyone else who read the blog, or just dropped me an e-mail now and then, thank you too. It is easy to feel like you are lost and alone when the nearest English speaker is across a cold sea, and your family is thousands of miles away, and yet knowing there was a group of people who kept up with my life here, who read and remembered and kept in mind the things I was doing - that helped a lot in some of the lonelier moments.

How on earth does one transition from that to the photos of the last couple days and what I did today? I propose that it is impossible to do smoothly, but I have photos, and I need to tell you about what I've been up to. Here we go.


A couple days ago, when I went to pick up my name stamp, I barely avoided being caught in a huge downpour. I took this picture, and then got back on the road.


Recently, I've been counting down sunsets. When I saw this one, it was four more, because that's as many many times as I'm going to see the sun set in Japan before I go.

Yesterday, I went to Hiroshima with Graham and Dave to do some shopping for them, get them cell phones, and look for a couple things myself. As usual, I hardly took any photos in Hiroshima, but I did take this one. This sounds awful, but whenever I am with someone and they back off taking a photo of someone because they say the person is too scary, or taking the photo would be creepy, I am instantly compelled to take the picture. It's kind of a cavalier move, I'm sort of being a jerk with my actions, but on the other hand after my time in Tokyo, I really think that the difference between a good photo and a missed chance that you will remember for a long time is that moment when you say "that is a great photo, but I don't know if I am comfortable taking it." This one is for Dave, and it was not too creepy, in the end.


At Round 1, in Hiroshima.


The Hiroshima Kagoyahime Bus. Oft-ridden, never photographed.


Coming into Takehara on the bus.

Fast forward to today. I went to Mihara with Mori and The Circus to attend a skate competition, and yesterday Dave left his backpack (with video camera, purchases, etc.) on the bus. We drove him to Takehara bus station to get the bag (of course found, kept, and probably cleaned and ironed while they held it too.) And then we dropped him back at the ferry, and then headed to Mihara.


Me, Dave, and the rest of the crew.


In Mihara, waiting for the thing to start. The little kid on the right - he lives right next door to me. He used to come down to the water and watch everyone skate, he is shy and quiet, but he loved watching the skating, and seemed to sort of idolize these older guys who could launch their skateboards into the air and somehow land on them again when they came down. He got a skateboard, and now everyone in The Circus is constantly helping him, teaching him, and he's down by the water skating more often than any of the other skaters. The guys all call him "Tabo" so I figured that was his family name. I finally asked Mori today, and he was like "no, no, it's a nickname - 'Taabo.'" I still didn't get it, even with an emphasized long a, and then I saw his skateboard. Written on it in spray paint is "Turbo" - that's his nickname. Frankly, that's the coolest nickname ever.


Turbo, who is forever in my mind Tabo - watching Mori do a kickflip.


It rained a bit, so we set about taking a good picture of Mori jumping the railing into the skating area.




Mori, with my video camera. Right after this, I have a video of Mori holding my camera.


Region Plaza in Mihara - where the skate competition was held.

We got back around 6, and this was the sight out over the water as we drove home.


Not bad, not bad. 2 more sunsets.

It was the Kaidenma - the wooden boat races that I photographed a year ago today. The boats had already passed, but the spectators were still about, and they made for some beautiful photographs.







And that's it. I will continue taking pictures obviously, but they won't be up here until sometime next week. I have no idea what the posts will be like, but I want this to be a complete record, so keep an eye here for a little while longer. Thank you for reading this far, and good night.

Parties, Parties, Parties

Sunday, August 13, 2006
A quick one tonight, but really it is a quick one every night. I am barreling to the end of my time here, and every day starts early and ends late. I have been getting odd shocks of searing pain in my head, and I think they are from lack of sleep. Oh well, I'll sleep on the plane home - I certainly won't be carrying any liquids.

I have been feeling the urge to conclude here, to write something that will tie up this entire amazing year beautifully and concisely, and simultaneously show how much I've grown and how much I've learned. Needless to say, I am having trouble. The other thing I am having trouble with is logistics. I will not be able to blog my departure, as I will be departing and my computer will be flying through the air in parts. I don't want to end on some random note, so I plan on finishing this from home. I wonder what the tone will be, I will try to keep it relevant. I hope it won't take to long to finish, this is really something to be done on site.

Tonight's pictures: Parties all over. First the Board of Education goodbye/welcome party. We went back to the Seifukan beer garden overlooking the sea and the islands, and I took this picture off the side. I have mentioned this before, but I don't know if I could imagine better roads for driving, especially on a scooter. I mean, look at this:


Simply perfection.


Koshida-san and Tabo-san, my noble boss.


It was so nice to be around all my quiet office people (see last post), but to see them having a grand old time.



The sun went down, the moon came out, and it became a beautiful night.







So after the party was over, Tabo-san asked me if I wanted to come do karaoke. I never turn down a chance at karaoke, so off we went. We got to the Ali Baba bar, and Tabo-san started it out, and holy crap he was an absolutely phenomenal singer. He has a huge range, a beautiful vibrato, and incredible sound. I was instantly jealous.




What a romantic - how can I resist?

As Tabo-san wound down, Mori and his crew showed up at the bar. Tabo-san ordered drinks all around, and so it was whiskey for the lot. Yum. Truth be told, I am so tired right now that my eyes are crossing and I can't focus on the screen. Here are the last three pictures, at Ali Baba with Mori and company. I can't count on myself to correctly type captions, so I hope they stand on their own. Good night.





Sorry, Fumiko.